Hello Nigeria! is a film that aims to unravel and understand Nigerian society by examining the contents of their very own celebrity/society magazine Ovation.
The film is actually the first in a series of programmes that I am doing where I attempt to dissect a non-Western culture by examining their celebrity magazines. The series is called “Hello World!”, but it was seeing the Nigerian society magazine, Ovation that gave me the idea for the series in the first place.
Launched in London in the mid ’90s after the magazine’s charismatic publisher, Dele Momodu, was forced to flea Nigeria under the military dictatorship of President Abacha, Ovation magazine sells not only in Nigeria but all over Africa, the USA, Britain and the Caribbean. It has a monthly circulation of around 100,000.
When I first saw Ovation I was bowled over by its glossiness and its brightness. It also looked exactly like the British celebrity magazine, Hello!, but when I flicked through Ovation pages, I became aware of how very different it was from the British version. For example, Britain is obsessed with its royal family, soap stars, models, movie actors and American celebrities. In Ovation, doctors appear more frequently than actors or even footballers and funerals are presented as glamorous society events.
One of the mottos of Ovation according to its charismatic publisher, Dele Momodu, is that “in Nigeria everybody is a star”, so we see a lot of very ordinary people featured in their pages that appear to be celebrities. This creates a peculiar situation where Nigerians all over the diaspora read their own celebrity magazine to catch up with friends as opposed to merely reading a magazine to learn about famous people they could never hope to meet…
The idiosyncracies and value systems of any given society is apparent in these magazines and the people that are featured in these magazines also reveal certain truths about their national culture.
“Hello World!” is a series about identity, pride and aspirations, and in my opinion, there is a lot to be learned when you examine people’s aspirations. Forget the folk traditions and rural ways. I want to contest this underlying assumption that the repository for cultural authenticity automatically lies in a culture’s poorer citizens. This assumption, I believe has its roots in anthropology where the tradition was to ‘study down,’ i.e. to study those at the bottom rung of the social pyramid when visiting another culture. The philosophy of anthropology has since moved on, but there is actually nothing new in the idea that rurality, and to some extent, poverty signifies cultural authenticity. It is an idea espoused by the European Romantics amongst others. Coupled with the universal truth that bad news is more sensational and therefore more sellable, then it is hardly surprising that it is the bad news from Africa that dominates the Western media.
There is, however, also the issue of who is to blame for this negative coverage. The view that Nigerians themselves may be to blame for giving the press enough stories to write about is expressed in the film. This makes the gap between the perception and reality of Africa wide and complex. This Nigerian self-celebration is, according to its publisher, a necessity in a world where African success is often seen as an anomaly and not a natural occurrence. So despite its glossy and apparently frivolous appearance and content, Ovation is political. The magazine throws up important debates about who Nigerians think they are, how they want to be perceived and whether they are justified in this desire.
It was a real education making the film. Due to a (serious) lack of funding, I have been unable to actually travel to Nigeria. So this film focuses slightly more on the Nigerian community in Britain. But as the magazine was started in England and the publisher, up until recently, lived in England, it seemed an appropriate place to start. Having grown up in the UK, I’ve felt somewhat isolated from the Nigerian community (even the Nigerian community in England) but through making the film, I have met an awful lot of Nigerians and even made a few friends. I’ve become aware of how little we all know about the towns and cities we live in. We know nothing of the characters, the frustration and the ambition that exist right under our noses. I’ve been able to meet Nigerians from all walks of life from footballers and actresses to shopkeepers and priests and it’s been an enormous privilege as well as an education.
Hope you enjoy the film!